It would have been a complacent punter indeed who chalked up Fermanagh’s trip to Westmeath as a routine win.
Yet, that was how the fixture was being sold in some quarters. And, for much of the game the visitors lived up to that billing, dominating possession and scoring with relative fluency.
However the loss of Eoin Donnelly to injury at half-time proved a major set back and as the scoring threat faded out over the course of the second half the scene was set for a late Westmeath smash and grab.
Four late points in quick succession wrested the points from Fermanagh’s grasp with the finishing line in touching distance.
After the game Erne boss Rory Gallagher wasn’t impressed with how his side performed in the second half.
“We were caught at the death,” said Gallagher. “There was a bit of a deceptive breeze there and we were under pressure in the second half. They won the toss and they chose to play against it, so they knew on their own pitch that it would be a bit of an advantage.
“We got the goal at the right time, but we didn’t defend well and personally I didn’t think we deserved to win the game, we didn’t bring enough to the table in the second half. There was a lack of energy and creativity and that’s very disappointing. Once Eoin went off we lost our competitiveness around the middle of the field.”
Indeed the loss of Eoin Donnelly at half-time was to prove the crucial. Over the course of the second half Westmeath began to get more joy in the middle third, to the point in the closing stage when the hosts basically had Fermanagh penned in the final third.
“Eoin got a couple of bad bangs and he had to go off to hospital to get an x-ray. It was a massive loss,” said Gallagher. “He was playing well, he was controlling the middle of the field and unfortunately when he went in the second half we suffered badly.”
His loss came after an encouraging first 35 minutes for Fermanagh, although, Gallagher, pictured below, would have liked to have had more scores to show for his sides dominance.
“We were defending quite well. It was a breeze that we felt we could kick from a wee bit further out, but seven points was very average with the amount of possession we had. I felt we should have been at nine or ten points and [Aidan] Breeno had a sniff of a goal chance as well.”
Despite gradually surrendering the impetus to Westmeath, Fermanagh did get the game’s only goal. It came with 12 minutes left to play and looked like it would be the score to send Gallagher’s men on their way to the two points.
“That should have been enough. It was a well worked goal, almost against the run of play. But we were very naive then, we were caught with the first kick out and all of a sudden it’s back to three. I didn’t think we managed the game very well. We were very naive our basic skills were poor, our support play and the amount of ball we gave away.”
Fermanagh failed to build on that goal though and Gallagher was frustrated he didn’t get the bang for his buck he had hoped to get from his attacking substitutions.
“We brought on players we felt were good enough to make an impact on the score board and we didn’t get it. We took the wrong options, maybe some people took their own individual option and overall we didn’t get the impact off the bench that we would have liked. Overall in the second half we were always playing second fiddle to Westmeath.
Directly after Maguire’s goal Fermanagh were reduced to 14 men when Cian McManus did what needed to be done as he halted Ger Egan’s charge on goal. Gallagher agreed the numerical disadvantage helped tip the balance in favour of Colin Kelly’s men in the closing stages.
“There was no doubt it was a second yellow offence. It was a massive turning point in the game. It allowed them to really squeeze us. It allowed them to take the fight us further up the field and we struggled to break out of defence.”
In those frantic closing moments, it was Fermanagh’s own mistakes which did the fatal damage.
“It was another goal-keeping error,” said Gallagher. “We kicked the ball straight to them. We got the wee break, Heslin’s long free dropped short, there’s no way in the world you should be handing the ball straight to them and you lose the game because of it.”
Now Fermanagh look ahead to next Sunday’s game against Armagh and a win has now become a matter of first importance if the push for promotion is to be sustained.
“No matter what way things worked out it was always going to be a big game, and it is now,” said Gallagher. “Our destiny is still in our own hands, but it’s going to take a better performance than that second half.
“We’ve got to look after business next week. We’ve got to look at ourselves and understand that we weren’t good enough today, we didn’t deserve to win it. We got off lightly. Heslin missed a few frees he wouldn’t have normally. He’s a good player and he’s going to kick a few points, but we made sure there was plenty of supply to him. We didn’t handle that situation well.”
Posted: 9:34 am March 18, 2018